From my birth in 1957 to my graduation in 1975, I was a model Catholic student.
I went to a parochial school named Holy Rosary until 8th grade when I graduated. I was an altar boy in 2nd grade who was able to say the mass in Latin. I received all the sacraments. The pastor of our congregation, Father Constantino, bless his soul, was guiding me toward the seminary until I reached the 6th Grade and found out that as a priest, I would never be able to what? I don’t think so, Father. The priesthood must not be for me since I will definitely be a sinner if I became a priest. Thus, for my junior high and high school years, which lasted until 1975, I was preparing to be a happily married Catholic congregant.
I graduated high school in June of 1975. I was 18 years old. I went to Housatonic Community College for my freshman year. In my English Lit class, I decided to read and report on a book by Dr. Raymond Moody, concerning NDEs (Near Death Experiences), called Life After Life. This book was a collection of NDEs by the clients of Dr. Moody from the practice he had begun in the late 1960s after his doctoral thesis was approved. By 1975 he had collected enough firsthand memories of his clients to publish his first book. I was 18 years old at the time and not simply skeptical, these stories had to have explanations
I did the report on Life After Life, questioning the validity of the entire process. These NDEs must be drug induced or hallucinatory or simply imagined. If they had any reality in them, certainly I would have heard about them in our religious classes that I had attended faithfully. NDEs were not real in my world.
The subject of NDEs peaked my interest. While my best friends were reading science fictions books such Kurt Vonnegut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Isaac Asimov's I Robot, I decided to read science fiction in a different direction. I read about NDEs.
Twenty years later, by 1995, the NDE genre had exploded. Dr. Moody’s Life After Life was my first book. Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s I continued to read books about NDE experiences written by other psychiatrists and psychologists such as Dr. Brian Weiss, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Dr. Michael Newton, Dr. Linda Backman, Dr. Kenneth Ring and Dr. Peter Woodbury, to name a few. These doctors had received Doctorate degrees at such schools and Universities as Harvard, Yale School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Boston College School of Medicine and Stanford University. They did residencies at some of the most prestigious hospitals in the country. Dr. Weiss was the head of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. Dr. Kubler-Ross gave us the seven stages of grief. These authors are psychiatrists and psychologists who have spent the first 10 to 30 years of their practice following mainstream doctrine, and mainstream theories. They also were convinced these NDEs were caused and/or created by a cocktail of drugs, or hallucinations, or the mind playing tricks on the consciousness of a person. During the 70s and 80s, these psychiatrists and psychologists still reported there was a cause for these NDEs, that they couldn’t put their fingers on that cause, but they could not be real! In fact, some of the good doctors said these were not real and could not be real and that eventually medicine would find what the actual explanation was. The psychiatric field of medicine was prepared to launch studies at mainstream colleges and universities about the validity of NDEs during the 70s & 80s. No doctor who got their degree outside of Battle Creek Michigan would say that these experiences were real.
As Stephen Colbert likes to say, “Meanwhile,” during the 70s, 80s & 90s, there were M.D.s and surgeons who were now experiencing their own NDEs. These were Medical Doctors such as Eben Alexander M.D., Michael Sabom M.D., Mary Neale, M.D, and Penny Sartori, R.N. These people were having NDEs, coming back and writing books about what they experienced. It wasn’t a drug-induced hallucination or imagination to these doctors. They would describe the differences between hallucinations and NDEs. Whether it was a drug-induced hallucination or a “normal hallucination,” whatever a normal hallucination may be, these doctors would be careful to not have these experiences lumped together with hallucinations because they were clearly not hallucinations. The experiences were also not dreams or dream states, regardless of how real they were.
And finally, by January of 1998 there were others who had discovered the NDE experience who were not in the medical field at all. These people all wrote about their own NDEs, relating their own personal histories: Anita Moorjani, Betty Eadie, Joel Fischer, April Crawford, Cynthia Rose, and Heather Hunter. These folks wrote books about their NDE experience simply to say the experiences were real. That the afterlife was real. The love and life and God were very real. They wanted to reassure the public that as good as they thought God might be, God was actually even better than that.
These experiences were now happening because the medical field was saving more people’s lives than ever before. The medical profession had made some very impressive gains in the 50s and 60s and now were able to save lives that they were never able to save before. Some of the people came back to life and had these experiences because modern medicine was able to save their lives for them. The people who experienced these NDEs were writing books in the 80s and 90s that could not have been written before because they couldn’t be saved before. Now they were able to be saved. More and more would be saved and come back with these experiences.
That was essentially my experience. I had a brain tumor in the 90s. The neurologist thought it began around 1994-95 and was at its virtual peak in size in December of 1997. By the time we got the first pictures of the tumor on December 10, 1997, it was the size of my fist. On the inside of my cranium that would have taken about half the size of my brain. When we look at the pictures of my brain, on the right side you can see what is clearly the shape of a brain, with the lobes, etc., in it. That same picture, on the left side, just had a circle, a clear circle in it. Why, I asked the doctor, was that side of the brain represented by a circle, the doctor explained, it was not represented by the circle; that was my brain tumor. It was taking the entire left side of my skull. It had pushed the left side of my brain slowly to the right until it was next to the right side of my brain. It would continue to grow if left alone until it pushed the brain so much that it would kill me. The doctor saw also that the blood supply to the tumor was very strong and so he told me the growth was peaking. It was growing faster than it was when it started, faster than it had two years ago, faster than it had 12 months ago. Because it was already occupying half of my cranium, the doctor estimated by June, it would kill me. This was December.
The neurosurgeon wanted me to go home, put my things together and in order, then return the next day for the operation where the tumor would be removed. I was absolutely seeing and believing the gravity of the situation. I was not panicked at all.
Just twelve hours earlier, when my wife picked me up from the hospital, when I had first been told about the brain tumor, I was literally ecstatic because I had a brain tumor. My wife was told by the doctors that I could not drive any longer. My vehicle was a two-ton missile waiting for me to lose control because of the very real possibility of a seizure. The doctors in the ER asked if I had had any seizures and I didn’t know what they were talking about. A seizure? Like where I lost consciousness and was shaking and where I would look like I had been possessed by anyone in the room with me? That kind of seizure?
Yes, the doctors said. That was it. But I could confidently say that I had never had a seizure. Never. What would prompt me to have a seizure, I asked. But they told me they’d answer all my questions after they had conferenced to determine their recommendation. So, I sat on the ER bed still whistling a happy tune since as far as I was concerned, they had not delivered any bad news thus far.
The doctors came back in to tell me that my wife was going to be picking me up from the hospital and she would have the instructions that I needed for doctors and medicine. I had no questions because I still didn’t know the determination or the seriousness of the situation. In my mind, my wife had the instructions, I would visit the doctor’s office tomorrow, get a prescription or two after visiting the doctor and continue on my merry way. I believe the word that comes to mind at this point is “oblivious.” I was oblivious to my condition, to the brain tumor in my head, to my entire situation. I knew there was something wrong but it didn’t alarm me in the least. I had spent a lot of time in the hospitals receiving operations in my first 40 years and this was just another one. I would get the information from my wife when she got to the hospital.
To say the least, I was not thinking very clearly at this point. I was calm, cool and collected, but clarity was not my forte at this point. The doctors told me my wife would be at the hospital to pick me up, but it didn’t dawn on me that I had driven there from the clinic I was attending in the morning to the hospital. If I had my car here, why couldn’t I simply drive home?
The doctors made it very clear that I was to go home, put together all my things for a hospital stay because when the doctor saw me in the morning, he would most likely tell me that I would be checking into the hospital for another operation to add to my list of operations, to add to the appendectomy, tonsillectomy, hernia and knee surgeries. I was a veteran of hospitalizations for surgeries and this would just be another one. I didn’t even wonder what it was for.
In retrospect, I believe the doctors in the ER were not anxious or excited or even willing to tell me about the prognosis. Here I am thinking it’s just another routine surgery and they know it is incredibly serious. After telling me that I would be going home to collect my things for the hospital stay, they told me to wait for my wife to get there, then they left. No questions, no answers; no prognosis; no determination. No doctors were not willing to tackle that conversation, so they left it for the neurosurgeon who would be meeting with me in the morning. The doctors would leave it to him to say the prognosis and such. What they did tell me was to go to the ER waiting room to wait for my wife. So, a nurse showed me an ER waiting room with a bed in it and I was told to sit on the bed until my wife came to pick me up.
While I waited on the bed for my wife to arrive, the ER doctor came into my room. Dr. Fierara was not part of the original council of doctors so I hadn’t met him yet. When he came into the room and introduced himself to me, I immediately loved his Italian accent since I am a first generation Italian and had been raised to speak Italian. The language and the accent were a gift for me.
So, after Dr. Fierara introduced himself, I immediately smiled and asked him what part of Italy he was from. He told me Sicily and I smiled even bigger because my father was from Sicily. I told him my grandmother was from across the toe in Reggio Calabria. My mother was from Rome, Frosone specifically. We spoke in Italian a little and it was great to see a person from the old country who made it so well here in America.
Suddenly Dr. Fierara’s face went serious. He asked me, “Do you know what you’re here for?”.
I told him about the MRI, that I had gotten to the hospital about noon and it took forever to get the MRI then I waited in the MRI waiting room then the doctors told me my wife would pick me up and sent me here to the ER waiting room. Then I asked him if he had any idea what this was all about?
He was amazed that none of the doctors had discussed the situation with me. He asked specifically whether or not I saw the doctor who took the MRI but I told him no, I didn’t even see that doctor. So, Dr. Fierara explained that I had a brain tumor, about the size of my fist, that was interfering with and causing many of the problems I was having.
The problem I had finding words, even in English, was caused by the brain tumor. My inability to speak at times, was caused by the brain tumor. I had been tripping constantly on my right toe, supposedly in my mind because I was now 40 years old and becoming ever clumsier. The doctor told me that it would be later that I was that clumsy; right now, it was the brain tumor making me trip because I wasn’t walking and lifting my leg enough. The headaches I had never had before I was 39 years old, that I was getting a couple of times a month, those were probably due to the brain tumor. It was large, even massive by brain tumor standards, and so that was why the other doctors had Dr. Fierara make an appointment to see Dr. Hitchcock in the morning at 10am. My wife was left a message about the appointment so I should also confirm it with her.
Dr. Fierara and I had a nice visit after that but he quickly said he would have to make his rounds of the ER. If I had any questions he would answer them; otherwise I should continue to wait for my wife. And so I did.
Now I knew what the diagnosis was. Within a short time, I could see my wife approaching the ER bedroom from down the hallway. I immediately smiled as she approached the room, waiting for her to enter until I greeted her. I kissed her hello and continued to smile. She was very serious now, saying, “They haven’t told you yet what is the matter?”
I told her that absolutely, they had told me. I told her the story of Dr. Fierara, and the group of doctors before him, and she asked again, if I knew what was wrong. I told her, “Yes. I have a brain tumor the size of my fist. We are going to see Dr. Hitchcock tomorrow to see what he wants to do with it.”
She continued to look at the cat-that-ate-the-canary smile on my face and asked me why in the world I was smiling. I believe she said something to the effect of, “Have you already lost your mind?”
It was then that I realized she was not inside my head and not thinking what I was thinking. I told her, “I’m not depressed! That is great news! I knew I wasn’t depressed when I went to the clinic but I did so to see why I was experiencing the issues I was experiencing. I have a Brain tumor! They can operate on it and remove it. Then we can see how I have come through the operation. Or I can die. But it is not depression! They have no idea how to cure depression! You can be depressed for a day, a week or the rest of your life, needing meds to keep you at your level. Depression is a chemical imbalance. I don’t have a chemical imbalance! I have a brain tumor! Let’s get it out and see where it leaves us!”
With that, we checked out of the ER and went home. The next day, at 10am, my wife and I were at Dr. Hitchcock’s office next door to Swedish Hospital. He did all his operations at Swedish Hospital and so his office was next door. When we showed up, he looked at the MRIs and told me that this was a very serious operation. The brain tumor was the biggest he had every operated on and he would do his best for me.
My only question was, “What is the prognosis?” Dr. Hitchcock continued about his experience with brain tumors. How he was the most prominent brain tumor specialist. How he had operated on many brain tumors and he would do the absolute best he could with my brain tumor.
But on December 11, 1997, I wanted to know my prognosis. What are my chances of survival? What are the chances of waking up drooling? What are the chances of a lobotomy? What are the chances of my waking up totally normal?
But Dr. Hitchcock would not answer the questions, mainly because he could not know what my chances were. He assured me again that he would be at the top of his game. He would give it his best, that I was in the hands of the best neurosurgeon in Denver and we would do the best we could. Much of what I was asking was unknowable. The brain is a very mysterious organ. Dr. Hitchcock assured me he would do the best he could.
That was not good enough for me. I turned to my wife, thinking that the doctor was not understanding my question. I tried to get my wife to tell me a range from the doctor. 10-30%? 30-50%? 50-70% 70-90%? Better than 90%? Less than 10%? I needed to know. My wife looked at me, then told me that doctor was saying he didn’t know. I reiterated I need some type of range! She asked me why, which is when I became a bit flustered. I told her I would let them know after they gave me a number or a range, but I need to know.
The doctor, hearing this conversation, interrupted. He told me that he did not play that game. He would do the best he could, but he wasn’t going to give some kind of percentage of survival and that is what I wanted. He would not do that.
So then, turning my attention back toward the doctor, I asked, if he would not give me even a range, what would be the consequence of doing the operation in late January or early February instead of this week?
The doctor told me we needed to get this done as quickly as possible. This is not just a simple or small brain tumor. I have never seen a brain tumor this large.
Now I have the information I needed. If the doctor hadn’t ever seen a brain tumor of this size, what he was saying was: of this size on a living patient. He was seeing me as a living patient. He may have seen them almost this size or half this size, but on a dead patient. So, I told him that we would have to schedule the operation of late January or early February.
Dr. Hitchcock told me that by June I would be dead. He didn’t have a lot of doubt about that. Why would I want to postpone the operation a month? Every day makes it incrementally more dangerous.
Now I had all the information I needed. June I’d be dead. January there was chance, but it was more possible than June. I explained to my doctor friend, “If I die on the operating table tomorrow or this weekend, I have a 1l year-old daughter that will remember Christmas as the time of year when dad died. That will be my legacy to my only daughter. That is not what I want. If the operation gets done in late January or Early February, Christmas is over. Dad may have died, but not during the Christmas Season. That will give me comfort in itself, my daughter not having to deal with my death and Christmas season together, and it will allow me, if I can survive the next two weeks, to see her on Christmas for the last time, if it is the last time. Since you don’t play that game Doc, and won’t tell me, I need to make the best decision for my daughter.
Dr. Hitchcock’s disposition took a 180-degree turn. Now he was happy because, he told me, brain tumors are notorious bleeders. You can go to the blood clinic for the next four or five weeks to donate your own blood to you, so there is no chance of rejection.”
I donated the blood every Friday until I had the operation. My daughter was taken care of and I have had two dozen Christmases since! Which brings me to my NDE.
Everything went as planned with Christmas, January and blood donations. I had the brain tumor removed and had my NDE. At some point, between falling asleep because of the intravenous cocktail you get in the operating room and my waking up at 2am the next day, I had my NDE. I don’t know if it was the entire time, 5 seconds of the time or something in between. Here is what I do know from it and what I understand from it.
I didn’t go through the tunnel. I didn’t head toward the light. My first recollection was that I was already there. I was walking in a field of the most beautiful flowers and plants and paths I had ever seen. It was gorgeous. I think you’ve heard this before; it’s difficult to put into words. But there I was, walking along the path to a group of buildings at the end of the field.
As I’m walking along, I notice I am not alone. I am walking with one of my guides. I don’t remember his name but it wasn’t earthly or something I’d really heard before. It wasn’t like Fred or Charles or George. But I knew his name and he knew mine and we were walking together. We both knew why we were walking toward the buildings also. We were going to a meeting with my Masters in order to see what happens next.
I was a bit concerned because, at this point, I was expecting a life review, but I also knew I shouldn’t question it. Eventually I found that there was not going to be a life review since my life was not over yet, and it would not be over for at least another 50%.
My guide and I were heading towards a meeting place in the buildings with my Masters. We had a decision to be made at that point. Actually, it was my decision. No one wanted to make it for me. No one wanted to be an influence. I needed to decide if I wanted to return to my body to raise my son who hadn’t been born yet. He would be born in November of 1999.
I don’t see why I had this experience other than my proof. I had made my plan to live this life and I was given the opportunity to exit in 1997. I was committed to raising my son before I came into this life. I was committed to raising him during the first half of this life. When I woke, I decided I was committed to being with him during his life. At this time, he is a junior in college and 22 years old.
I returned to the field with my Guide to walk back to whence I came…but I don’t know where or what that is exactly. Suffice it to say, at some point I came to in my body, on a respirator in the ICU at 2am.
I came back with a better understanding of the other side of the veil. It’s not as mysterious to me, but as I have learned by my 40 years plus of reading about NDEs, it has been a growth process. I believe I will grow for eternity now. For that I am grateful.